A rare contemporary artist who created his earliest works in the vein of figurative art, only to later delve into landscape painting with the utmost consistency. He was born in Radom in 1930 and died on August 2, 2005 in Warsaw.
A rare contemporary artist who created his earliest works in the vein of figurative art, only to later delve into landscape painting with the utmost consistency.
During the years 1949-55, Ziemski studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw under the direction of Artur Nacht-Samborski. From 1958 he led his own painting studio at the Academy until he became Professor Emeritus.
He debuted at The National Exhibition of Young Visual Art "Against War - Against Fascism" at the Warsaw Arsenal (1955). Later, during the "thaw" he joined an art group centred around Marian Bogusz and his "Krzywe Koło" Gallery. To boot, in 1959 Ziemski took part in the 3rd Modern Art Exhibition in Warsaw.
The artist's statement about this aspect of his work:
During the period of the Arsenal exhibition, and also later in 1956-57 my paintings came closer to figurative art. I dwelt in the world of known realities, and these realities were enough for the content I wanted to show. But then it turned out that I needed to find forms somewhat resembling synthesis, forms which create not derivative-repetitive, but forms with evocative style fitting for the expected result.
The search for evocative forms led the artist to quickly abandon material (just as the word suggests) and thematic clues. Instead, he focused on the world of nature, in itself a unique field of inspiration. They were, however, expressed in diverse visual forms: a path from the initial "real", through "fairy-tale", to "metaphorical" landscapes, as Aleksander Wojciechowski called them.
Deserted compositions with recognisable architectural forms, which were gradually distorted according to the rhythm of imagination that could be found both in earlier and in subsequent works (Sun Over the City, Landscape in Purples and Greens - both 1957, Four Suns - 1958). The disc of the sun (Red Sun, Sun Falls - both from 1958) and birds circling around the earth (Birds series, 1957-58) were often seen in these "architectural" landscapes, where one could also find some elements of Klee's (thin wire lines), as well as Miró's (free-floating patches) lyrical poetics. The hardly legible, allusive shape was quickly replaced by a completely abstract visual sign (Signs series, 1959), and the author began naming his pictures according to the order of their making: 53/61, 77/61, 12/62, etc. At the same time, the notion of anxiety won out over the original lyricism of Ziemski's paintings. Furthermore, the painterly formula was transformed: the composition became less dense, angular, splayed pools of paint were guided, as Wojciechowski stressed, with a "wide, relaxed movement".
Without doubt, Ziemski's work was ultimately influenced on the one hand by the Colourist Nacht-Samborski, Ziemski's professor, as well as by his sensitivity to colour - a result of that relation. On the other, inspiration also came from trends dominating the age in which Ziemski matured as an artist, that is the informel. From the end of the 1950s he created paintings in this style, becoming one of the most resolute representatives of that genre. Colour played a key role in Ziemski's paintings and he used it with ease. At first he found confidence in strong, vivid colours, but gave them up later in favour of simplicity and austerity. He liked to boldly clash splayed blotches with different structures, exploiting most of all their expressive potential.
Ziemski enjoyed arranging smoothly painted sections with patches, lumpy growths of paint in thick layers and splattered in thin trickles, giving the result of a thick spider web covering the painting's area. (Jacek Sempoliński, among others, emphasised the intricacy of Ziemski's forms. It is also worth noting that Ziemski's paintings now and then resembled the compositions of Jerzy Tchórzewski). His paintings turned into inner landscapes, reflections of dreams and imaginings, personal emotions, and sometimes of anxiety. Universal, magical meanings were achieved only when the author expanded their size, when he accentuated their hieratic character. He developed a liking for the vertical rectangle, the soaring whole often stressed by a vertical "spine" and "skeletal" forms (The Cathedral, 1960, unambiguously referring to Pollock's painting; Landscape 45/61; Landscape 60/64). Occasionally he merged his compositions into triptychs (1972-73).
Varied elements became part of Ziemski's paintings at the end of the 1960s: strong broad lines, both vertical and horizontal, were contrasted with the familiar openwork, web-like relief structures. They were the harbingers of his path toward in-depth studies of Oriental calligraphy (Landscape 21/77, Landscape 44/77). In the beginning, Ziemski created these works using gouache. He then referred to them in his dramatic acrylic compositions made in the 1990s. They were different from the earlier works in their more expressive traces of violent strokes, as well as in their provocative extension of the palette of vivid, bright colours shaped in uniformly faded flat blotches (all works bear the same title: Landscape - Landscape 5/95, Landscape 4/96). Another characteristic feature of these paintings is a clash of the strong, monumental hieroglyphic sign with a delicate, quivering matter of pulsating specks of pigment.
Ziemski's works have been shown in many solo and group exhibitions, with major shows held at "Krzywe Koło" Gallery (Warsaw, 1957), Gallery of Modern Art (Warsaw, 1962), Zachęta Gallery (Warsaw, 1968), Pryzmat Gallery (Kraków, 1968), 13 Muses Club (Szczecin, 1974), Zachęta Gallery (Warsaw, 1991), Kordegarda Gallery (Warsaw, 1997), Zderzak Gallery (Kraków, 2003). His exhibitions abroad include "50 Years of Polish Painting" (Geneva, 1959), 1st Paris Biennial (1959), International Exhibition of Contemporary Art and Sculpture (Washington, 1960), Gres Gallery (Washington and Chicago, 1960 and 1963), "Polish Painting" (Copenhagen, 1962; Lausanne, 1963), 3rd Festival of Painting (Cagnes-sur-Mer, 1971), "12 Polish Painters" (Paris, 1971), "Polish Contemporary Painting" (Brussels, 1976; Madrid, 1977), Simone van Dormael Gallery (Brussels, 1977), Hitzinger und Hitzinger Gallery (Vienna, 1987), and LK Gallery (Garrel, Germany, 1993).
In 1979 Ziemski was given the Jan Cybis Award. More information on the artist's work can be found in the catalogues of his major solo exhibitions, available in such Warsaw galleries as Zachęta, Studio, Kordegarda, as well as at Zderzak Gallery in Kraków. Articles written by Aleksander Wojciechowski - the author of the first (and only) monograph on Ziemski's art, titled simply "Rajmund Ziemski", published in the "Contemporary Polish Painting" series (Warsaw, 1965) is of particular note.
Author: Małgorzata Kitowska-Łysiak, Institute of Art History, Catholic University of Lublin. Updated: August 2005.
Translated by: Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer, July 2010.